This Week on Capitol Hill

Official Washington is focused on equatorial Africa this week, but we’ll try to avoid making banana republic references to America’s current fiscal management. The latest installment of the U.S. fiscal meltdown is the new “Supplemental Appropriation” heading towards quick adoption by the Senate this week. The bill is already more than $2 billion in new spending that is not budgeted. It is not clear how this new spending squares with the President’s public commitment to only 4 percent growth in discretionary spending this year.

The bill includes $1.55 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), $50 million for NASA’s investigation of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and almost $300 million to fight fires in western states. While many of these provisions are reasonable, the problem is that none of the spending is in the fiscal year budget. In particular, the spending for FEMA and firefighting should have been budgeted based on our experience in past years. It’s a cynical game when Congress passes budgets that don’t include expected spending. This allows Congress to move to pass “emergency” supplemental bills that permit them to spend beyond the budget. In any event, new emergency spending should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

The supplemental bill is originating in the Senate, and will likely be attached to the Legislative Branch appropriations bill. CSE intends to key vote against this unbudgeted new spending. The Senate bill even includes such wasteful pork as $100 million for Bill Clinton’s Americorps program. Americorps, you may recall, pays “volunteers” for their community service. CSE believes that this is not a federal responsibility; taxpayers do not need to fund true volunteers, especially at a time when we’re running budget deficits. Yet, Senator Barbara McCloskey’s (D-MD) amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee to add the Americorps money was adopted without opposition.

Medical Malpractice

While the spending situation looks increasingly grim, the CSE Freedom Agenda is being advanced on other fronts. In particular we want to give three cheers to the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for taking on the trial lawyers this week. Senator Frist, a doctor, understands firsthand the crisis that is growing in America’s medical system. Greedy trial lawyers and compliant juries are bringing doctors to their knees with frivolous lawsuits and outrageous awards. As a result, many doctors can no longer afford malpractice insurance especially in high-risk specialties like neurology.

The Senate bill, S.11, mirrors the House medical malpractice bill passed last March. The bill would cap noneconomic damages for pain and suffering at $250,000 and would limit attorneys’ fees. It would also restrict some of the punitive damages awarded against doctors, medical device manufacturers, and health plans. The bill strikes a good balance between access to the courts for patients who are truly wronged while protecting doctors and the health care system from marauding trial lawyers. Capping damages and limiting the number of lawsuits is one way to keep medical costs under control.

Unfortunately, Senator Tom Daschle and his lawyer-loving cronies are filibustering this common sense bill. The Democrats in Congress who complain about access to medical care are exposing their hypocrisy when they oppose medical malpractice caps, since medical malpractice reform will be a major step towards keeping health care affordable and keeping doctors in business.

Tell your Senator that it’s time to pass meaningful medical malpractice reform: Take Action!

Judicial Nominees: Free the Michigan Four

Senator Frist really is the hero of the week not only for his action on medical practice, but also for taking the offensive in the fight over stalled judicial nominees. He’s going to force a vote on four nominees directly on the Senate floor, thereby circumventing the obstructionists on the Judiciary Committee. It’s a bold move, but it is far overdue.

President Bush has nominated four qualified individuals to fill the four vacancies in the Sixth Circuit that have been deemed judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Yet, Senator Debbie Stabenow and her Michigan colleague, Senator Carl Levin, are taking advantage of Senate tradition, which allows them to block judicial nominees from their home state.

By requiring judicial nominees to pass ideological litmus tests in order to get approved, the Michigan senators and their obstructionist colleagues in the Senate have chosen to serve their political ideology at the expense of the judicial system. CSE is holding a rally in Michigan against this egregious abuse of power– click here to find out more!

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